SARASOTA, FL – Each year, November is celebrated as National Adoption Month. This initiative of the Children’s Bureau – an office of the Administration for Children & Families – seeks to increase awareness of adoption issues and bring attention to the need for adoptive families for children in the child welfare system. For one local family, their wholehearted celebration of National Adoption Month stems from two foster-turned-adopted children who improved and enriched the lives of everyone in the family.
Brian and Katherine Leaver have long been involved in community service with various organizations as well as time spent volunteering in their two bio-children’s classrooms. But they were seeking something with a deeper impact: a hands-on, boots-on-the-ground opportunity with the potential to truly change lives.
After meeting a couple who were foster parents, the Leavers were surprised how different their perceptions of foster families were versus the reality. In 2009, they decided to enroll in the required foster parent training and found it to be very challenging: “We never knew if we were going to return the following week – it was hard!” said Brian. At one point, their daughter asked why they didn’t just give money to the cause and that served to firm their resolve: they decided they needed to model actively engaged philanthropy.
Their first foster placement came on October 22, 2009: the baby was 6-1/2 months old. Brian remembers the date clearly because the Leavers ended up adopting that baby girl – she is now 14.
From 2009 through 2021, the Leavers cared for over 60 children – mostly infants, some just days old – and adopted two girls; the younger adoptee, who was placed with the Leaver family at just 3 weeks old, is now 8. Brian notes that the average duration per child was around 3-4 months and typically ended with placements with out-of-state relatives.
There were instances where they got calls late at night: one would go to secure the child, the other would grab the appropriate box from the attic. “Our attic was stocked with bins that were labeled with different ages of children and their gender,” said Brian. “You could not predict the future needs of the children. We always needed to be prepared.”
After each placement, Brian and Katherine would call family meetings to talk the situation through. Sometimes the family would need to take a short break to get over the hurt of “losing” a child or children who had been under their care.
The experience spurred the Leavers’ bio-kids to a deeper engagement with philanthropy. In fact, their daughter started a charitable project called “Foster Hope Socks and Underwear Drive” during her freshman year at Pine View School. The effort was intended to help foster children with essential needs, especially since many arrive into foster care with little more than the clothes on their backs and foster families often have little time to prepare for placements.
The Leavers’ bio-kids are now 23 (daughter) and 21 (son). Brian affirms that their foster activities have had a significant impact on them. The daughter is pursuing a career in pediatric occupational therapy, inspired in great part by the experience of caring for foster children. Brian also notes that his son has accumulated a level of nurturing experience that is likely foreign to most young men his age.
“Our son will be a real catch!” he laughed. “He has father-type experience going back to the fourth grade. He has a comfort with babies and children most boys don’t have.”
While the Leavers have stopped taking in foster children at this point due to current family needs and their ability to keep up with the demands as they get older, Brian is fortunate to be able to continue making a positive impact on the child welfare system through his professional endeavors. He is the senior vice president and principal officer of Tandem Construction; the company was hired earlier this year to build Safe Children Coalition’s new Youth Shelter, which will be critical in helping to reduce the waiting list for safe shelter for homeless teens. It is the only CINS/FINS (Children in Need of Services/Families in Need of Services) youth shelter for Sarasota and DeSoto Counties; it also serves children from Manatee County.
Tandem Construction has also participated in Safe Children Coalition’s Holiday Angels program, through which community members shop for and donate holiday gifts for children in foster care and other child welfare and prevention programs. Last year, Tandem coordinated an effort including its own employees, other builders, vendors and partners, who came together to purchase gifts for 100 children, filling numerous wishes and brightening the holidays immeasurably for kids who find themselves in care due to no fault of their own.
Brian strongly encourages individuals and families who are considering fostering to do it – certainly not because it’s easy but because it’s intensely fulfilling and vital to each child’s future.
“People might think that taking in children who need a home would add to your stress but, for me, it’s the opposite. A child wasn’t getting what they needed in the situation they were in, they needed us, and we could be there for them,” he said. “I got to come home from my day and hold and feed a baby. That’s stress relief for me!”
“You get WAY more out of it than you give,” added Brian. “The benefits of being involved with the children is immeasurable.”
At any given time, there are more than 2,000 children in Circuit 12 who are not able to safely remain in their homes due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. Foster homes provide the children with stability and a place to heal until – if possible – they can safely return to their parent(s). Every year, Safe Children Coalition celebrates National Adoption Month with a day dedicated to finalizing adoptions for children who have found their forever homes; the celebration culminates the hard work of all involved for children and families in Circuit 12.
For more information or to inquire about becoming a foster parent, contact Safe Children Coalition’s foster parent recruitment specialist Jeremy Gorzynski at 941-404-0079 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Safe Children Coalition, Inc.
Safe Children Coalition, Inc. (SCC) serves as the lead agency for community-based care for Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties. SCC is a collaboration between local community agencies who provide services to children and families in need. SCC is committed to protecting children, strengthening families, and building community. The core functions provided by SCC include child welfare case management, foster care, adoption, independent living, prevention, diversion, quality management, and support services. Visit sccfl.org or call 941-371-4799.